From United Artists
Directed by George Roy Hill
Remember, I call this series of 60s movies... good. Good 60s films. Not necessarily always popular. I can't even promise you that you will even like them. Clearly, Toys in the Attic is a film that requires a little bit of an introduction. It was not a popular film with the public when first released although it has received increasingly more and more compliments over the years. The problem, if there is one, is that it's a bit of a downer. Ok, a bit more than a bit. Whether it even ends well depends on your perspective of things... there wouldn't be universal agreement.
I have said before and I am compelled again to tell you that I think Geraldine Page is one of the best actresses this country has ever produced. Let's further define it and say that I would put her in the top 5... ever. You can imagine the lofty company I see her schmoozing with. If you are unaware of this film, you must do something to amend that, simply because you must watch this brilliant actress go through her paces.
And while you're watching, take note of Wendy Hiller, surely one of Britain's finest actresses. Her face mesmerizes me; it has written on it every troubled emotion the character (and perhaps the actress) has ever experienced. She does more pertinent acting with her face than most people do with volumes of words. Whether she's playing British royalty or a poor southerner as she is here, there is a bearing about this actress which deserves your scrutiny.
So what we have here is Page and Hiller as two spinster sisters, Carrie and Anna, respectively, living in New Orleans just after the Depression. They have jobs that don't pay much and lives that don't offer much, but their spirits soar when they get news that their brother, Julian (Dean Martin), is returning for a visit. Ah, Julian, a ne'er-do-well blowhard who has now come into a wad of dough over something mysterious. He carries it on his person, stuffed in envelopes in various pockets.
Carrie has her enthusiasm for his visit depleted a bit when she learns he is bringing a bride with him. One of the high points (or is it a low point?) of the story is when Anna, sick to death of Carrie's machinations involving Julian, tells her that she knows Carrie has always wanted to sleep with their brother. Carrie vehemently denies it, even adding that the comment makes her hate Anna, but you know Anna is right. Too bad Julian hasn't figured it out... however, do not turn it off before the grand finale.
Ok, about that bride. Yvette Mimieux plays Lily, who is quite young, emotionally unstable and fearful that Julian is playing around on her. She loves her husband very much but is convinced that her rich and powerful mother, also a resident in the city, paid Julian to marry her.
The mother, Albertine, played by 40s film beauty, Gene Tierney, has her own pot stirring over her romantic involvement with her black chauffeur, played by Frank Silvera.
Julian has arrived at the family home burdened down with gifts for his wary sisters. Included among the ball gowns and furs are tickets for a two-month trip to Europe and even a refrigerator. Apparent to all is that he has gotten rich through some shady scheme partially engineered by a former flame who is now married to a wealthy but cruel man. Julian will get rich and enjoy his young wife and the former flame will fly the coop. Well, at least that's how they hope it will work out.
Carrie's treachery takes center stage when she gets the naïve Lily, of whom she's terribly jealous, of course, to do some terrible things that will become life-altering events for the four principals.
I think this may be Dean Martin's best work. Well, maybe his best work was on his hoot of a TV show but this may be his best dramatic movie work. It seemed that Page and Hiller actually treated him as an equal in their scenes together. Yvette Mimieux was good as well. This role suggests a bit of, I think, her best work in 1962s The Light in the Piazza... that of a emotionally-challenged young woman.
One person that made Toys in the Attic very special to me, although in a very small role (and scaled down from the play I should imagine) was Gene Tierney. At the time she had gotten over a mental illness in real life and her brief 60s career put her back in the limelight after some time away. While no longer Laura, she was still beautiful and regal and perfect for the part. She was hired, however, only after Olivia deHavilland and Ruth Roman were considered.
One reason critics always paid attention to the piece is because it was written by the esteemed and often maddening Lillian Hellman as a play. (You may have seen her life being played by Jane Fonda in the 1977 film, Julia.) Hellman credits her partner, Dashiel Hammett, as contributing a bit to Toys in the Attic. And you may be aware of some of Hellman's other works, The Little Foxes, The Children's Hour and Watch on the Rhine. Much credit must go to James Poe for his adaptation of Hellman's play.
George Roy Hill was a wonderful director and taking on this piece was an example of his versatility. His excellent work with good actors is so apparent. Some of you may recall my prior piece on him.
One sometimes wonders who these characters represent in an author's real life. Tough ol' Hellman didn't mind us knowing. Julian was her father, who did, indeed, have two spinster sisters who adored him. And the Albertine character represented another aunt who was romantically linked with her black chauffeur.